Monday, May 25, 2015

The River Cottage Curing and Smoking Handbook by Steven Lamb

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The River Cottage
Curing and Smoking Handbook
by Steven Lamb


ISBN-13: 9781607747871
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Released: April 14, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Blogging for Books.

Book Description, Modified from Inside Cover:
This accessible, compact guide is bursting with essential information for sourcing, butchering, smoking, and curing the whole hog, cow, chicken, fish, and vegetable. Steven Lamb, a respected charcuterie authority, breaks down the traditional methods of curing and smoking to their most simple procedures, with abundant visual resources and 50 recipes.

This thorough, timely handbook begins with a detailed breakdown of tools (from sharp knives to sausage stuffers, for the gadget-loving cook) and an explanation of the preservation process, including a section on which cuts are best for various methods of curing and smoking. Lamb then dives into each method--from dry-curing to fermentation, brining to smoking--in a straightforward, comprehensive manner. And for each technique, there are many delicious recipes, including chorizo Scotch eggs, hot smoked mackerel, prosciutto, and dry-cured bacon.


My Review:
The River Cottage Curing and Smoking Handbook is a "how-to" book on curing and smoking your own meat. The author spent 133 pages on the how-to aspects and 113 pages on the recipes (which contained further how-to information), so this isn't just a cook book in disguise. I appreciated that he described ways to cure and smoke meat using equipment we may already have rather than sending us off to buy a lot of expensive tools. He did provide information on buying if you prefer to buy specialized, ready-to-use equipment.

The information was presented in a way that made me feel like I understood what would be going on during the process and that it was something I could do--and do safely. The author lives in England, but the book has been modified so that Americans can use it without having to convert everything. However, Americans will have to find a locally available brand of no-additives salt and so on rather than just use the exact same things that he does.

The book contained some step-by-step pictures with the recipes and in the section on butchering. There were also pictures of different types of cured and smoked meats, of the equipment, and to illustrate the curing and smoking methods. Many of the recipes focused on pork, but there were some for other meats, fish, and a few for vegetables and for cheese.

I have some minor experience with butchering and have seen some of these things done in person or on video. Overall, I'd say this was a good book for someone like me--someone familiar with these ideas but who needed the details before trying it for themselves.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bourbon Empire by Reid Mitenbuler

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Bourbon Empire:
The Past and Future of America's Whiskey
by Reid Mitenbuler


ISBN-13: 9780670016839
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Viking
Released: May 12, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Unraveling the many myths and misconceptions surrounding America’s most iconic spirit, Bourbon Empire traces a history that spans frontier rebellion, Gilded Age corruption, and the magic of Madison Avenue. Whiskey has profoundly influenced America’s political, economic, and cultural destiny, just as those same factors have inspired the evolution and unique flavor of the whiskey itself.

Taking readers behind the curtain of an enchanting—and sometimes exasperating—industry, the work of writer Reid Mitenbuler crackles with attitude and commentary about taste, choice, and history. Few products better embody the United States, or American business, than bourbon.

A tale of innovation, success, downfall, and resurrection, Bourbon Empire is an exploration of the spirit in all its unique forms, creating an indelible portrait of both bourbon and the people who make it


My Review:
Bourbon Empire is a history of American whiskey with a focus on bourbon. The author covered why American farmers originally made whiskey, how it developed, how companies survived (or didn't) the Prohibition, and on through to the modern "craft whiskey" movement. We learn how whiskey is made and marketed, and what influences its taste for better and for worse. I've never tasted whiskey, but I felt like I had a good idea of what they taste like based on his descriptions. And if I ever try whiskey, I now have some idea of what might match my tastes at a price I can afford.

The book is written in a conversation tone with interesting stories. It held my attention from beginning to end. Overall, I'd recommend this book to people interested in whiskey for its taste (and history) and to those who enjoy learning history through the stories of specific products.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How to Get Dressed by Alison Freer

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How to Get Dressed:
A Costume Designer's Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing
by Alison Freer


ISBN-13: 9781607747062
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Released: April 14, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
Costume designer Alison Freer’s styling kit is a magical bag of tricks, built to solve every single wardrobe malfunction on earth. TV and film productions wait for nothing, so her solutions have to work fast. In How to Get Dressed, Alison distills her secrets into a fun, comprehensive style guide focused on rethinking your wardrobe like a fashion expert and making what’s in your closet work for you. She provides real-world advice about everything style-related, including:

Making every garment you own fit better
Mastering closet organization
The undergarments you actually need
The scoop on tailors and which alterations are worth it
Shopping thrift and vintage like a rockstar

Instead of repeating boring style “rules,” Alison breaks the rules and gets real about everything from bras to how to deal with inevitable fashion disasters. Including helpful information such as how to skip ironing and the dry cleaners, remove every stain under the sun, and help clueless men get their acts together, How to Get Dressed has hundreds of insider tips from Alison’s arsenal of tools and expertise.


My Review:
How to Get Dressed is about finding your unique style and making your clothing fit well. I love that she genuinely thinks that your body type is great--and it doesn't matter which body type you have. Instead of telling women to mimic the current fashion or her favorite style, the author encourages you to discover your own, unique style. Instead of telling you to buy expensive, uncomfortable clothes and underclothes to match the currently fashionable "look," she encourages you to get clothes that fit well and a tailor who can do some cheap alterations so that your clothes look great on you and you feel great in them. I love her general attitude and mindset.

The author discusses "fashion rules" and when they can be broken. She gives tips on how to deal with clothing emergencies (safety pins and toupee tape to the rescue! Plus how to get out any stain), how to find clothes that fit, what clothes can be cheaply altered to fit well if you like the style, and how to find good vintage clothing. She discusses proper care and washing of clothing, including when do you really need to use a dry cleaner. She tells how you can organize your clothing (including underclothes, shoes, etc.) in a way so that you can easily see everything you own. There's only one chapter on how men's clothing should fit, and the rest is focused on women.

Basically, she covered a little bit of everything clothing-related in an upbeat way. If you don't feel comfortable shopping for or in your clothing and don't know much about clothing care, this may be the book to help you.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Realism Challenge by Mark Crilley

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The Realism Challenge:
Drawing and Painting Secrets from a Modern Master of Hyperrealism
by Mark Crilley


ISBN-13: 9780385346290
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Watson-Guptill
Released: May 5, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.com.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
A captivating, step-by-step guide that teaches artists to draw and paint exact duplicates of common objects, rendered in the trompe l'oeil, hyperrealistic style of artist Mark Crilley's popular YouTube video series.

With just watercolors, colored pencils, and white gouache, artist Mark Crilley takes you step-by-step through his process for producing stunning, hyperrealistic recreations of everyday items. The Realism Challenge contains thirty lessons demonstrating how to render mirror-like duplicates in the trompe l’oeil tradition of everything from shells, leaves, and candy bars to your very own still life arrangements. Each lesson builds off the previous one, as you’ll master essential artistic techniques like creating drop shadows, adding highlights, and building from light to dark. Learn the secrets of one of hyperrealism’s biggest stars.


My Review:
The Realism Challenge is a how-to art book on the hyperrealistic style of illustration. The author's step-by-step lessons use Bristol board paper, graphite pencils (usually just for the initial work), colored pencils (for color detail), and watercolor (for larger areas of color). He assumed that you're familiar with using graphite, colored pencils, and watercolor, but he also gave hints about how to get certain effects with them in case you're a beginner. You could probably get away with just colored pencils if you don't have or wish to use watercolor.

This book was very good at teaching the reader the skills needed to make hyperrealistic illustrations. Once learned, those skills can be applied to hyperrealistic illustration of any subject. He broke each step down enough that I could both understand and see what he was doing at that point in the illustration. I have currently completed some of the initial lessons/challenges, and my drawing has definitely improved.

I think this book would be a great help to anyone just starting with hyperrealism--or with any drawing, for that matter, as it forces you to really see the object you're drawing. It's appropriate for teenagers and adults as long as you have the patience to put in the necessary detail. And we're talking hours (though not necessarily all at one time) for the later projects.

The Challenges:
BLACK & WHITE: torn paper, crumbled paper, broken eggshell

BASIC COLOR: popcorn, sliced mushroom

BASIC TEXTURE IN COLOR: piece of cardboard, seashells, cookie

BRIGHT COLORS: Fall leaf, toast with jam

ADVANCED SURFACES: piece of porcelain plate, carved wood head, cut rose, folded lace doily, strawberries

TRANSPARENT OBJECTS: clear glass bottle, clear glass box, marbles (and a piece of string), clear plastic bottle, assortment of glass objects

METALLIC SURFACES: spoon, crinkled tin foil, rusted chrome hub, metal Christmas bell, assortment of metallic objects

MANUFACTURED OBJECTS: plastic turtles, torn envelope with stamps, metal salt and pepper shakers, candy bar with shiny packaging, assortment of all types


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: You can view a "Look Inside" this book at Amazon.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

John Shaw's Guide to Digital Nature Photography by John Shaw

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John Shaw's Guide to Digital Nature Photography
by John Shaw


ISBN-13: 9780770434984
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Amphoto Books
Released: March 17, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Blogging for Books.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Photography legend John Shaw returns with his much-anticipated guide to digital nature photography, complete with more than 250 extraordinarily beautiful photographs. In his first-ever book on digital photography, John Shaw provides in-depth advice on everything from equipment and lenses, composition, and close-ups, to up-to-date information on software filtration and the histogram. In addition, he offers inspirational and frank insight that goes far beyond the nuts and bolts of photography, explaining that successful photos come from having a vision, practicing, and then acquiring the equipment needed to accomplish the intention.


My Review:
John Shaw's Guide to Digital Nature Photography is a book about getting the most out of digital single-lens-reflex (DSLR) cameras and its gear. If you have a Nikon D3 or similar camera, or if you have thousands of dollars to spend on a camera body, lens, filters, software, tripods, and other equipment, then this book will make sure you get the best pictures that you can from that gear. It also explains what gear is good for what type of pictures, so you don't end up buying gear that you'll rarely use.

About 95% of this book is about selecting and using the DSLR camera equipment. The remaining 5% applied to using any digital camera. He generally assumed the reader had heard this more basic, general information before and only covered it as a quick review.

Unfortunately, I took the book description of "easily digestible and useful for every type of photographer" seriously. I've taken a photography course before, but it was for point-and-shoot cameras and mainly covered composition. I wanted to learn about more manual control of digital cameras (f stops, ISO, etc.) and how to get better nature photographs, so I thought this would be the book for me. From the start, though, he assumed the reader knew what f stops, lens sizes, etc. were about and only later briefly described that information to "remind" the reader. A glossary of terms or concepts would have been very helpful for someone like me, but there wasn't one.

His photographs where lovely, but he didn't explain the reasons he chose certain gear and settings for the photographs. I enjoyed looking at them, but I learned very little from them. He included only a few illustrations that demonstrated what he was explaining in the text. When he did, it was an immediate, "oh, I understand now!" for me. However, he generally told the reader to go out and experiment until you understand. So I ended up understanding very little of what appeared to be very detailed and helpful information since it didn't apply to the camera I actually own.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Most Powerful Idea in the World by William Rosen

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The Most Powerful Idea in the World
by William Rosen


ISBN-13: 9781400067053
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Random House
Released: June 1, 2010

Source: Borrowed from my local library.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
In The Most Powerful Idea in the World, William Rosen tells the story of the men responsible for the Industrial Revolution and the machine that drove it—the steam engine. In the process he tackles the question that has obsessed historians ever since: What made eighteenth-century Britain such fertile soil for inventors? Rosen’s answer focuses on a simple notion that had become enshrined in British law the century before: that people had the right to own and profit from their ideas.

The result was a period of frantic innovation revolving particularly around the promise of steam power. Rosen traces the steam engine’s history from its early days as a clumsy but sturdy machine, to its coming-of-age driving the wheels of mills and factories, to its maturity as a transporter for people and freight by rail and by sea. Along the way we meet inventors as Thomas Newcomen and James Watt, scientists including Robert Boyle and Joseph Black, and philosophers John Locke and Adam Smith, as well as learn about the technologies and developments necessary for the creation of steam engines.


My Review:
The Most Powerful Idea in the World is a "Connections"-style book about the developments in technology and ideas that were needed to create an effective steam engine. The author covered the economic, legal, and social issues that came together to foster invention. He also followed various threads of technological developments from ancient times to 1829 that were needed for the creation of steam locomotives. He talked about many inventors and inventions along the way, including developments in iron working, precision measurement, textiles, mining, and science.

If you're looking for a book that clearly explains how each invention worked and includes diagrams, this isn't it. There were only a few diagrams, and the descriptions in the text didn't give enough information for someone not already familiar with the science and engineering behind it. Since the descriptions didn't really enlighten me, they actually went on longer than I needed to understand the overall story of development. A timeline would have been useful, too. The author reset where we were in time with each new topic. Each technology or idea led to the next within each chapter, but I started to lose track of when the events of other chapters happened in relation to the one I was currently reading.

Overall, this is a fairly readable book with a lot of interesting connections about the legal protection and technology needed for the development of the first practical steam locomotive. Just keep in mind that it's a bit technical while still not fully explaining how the various technologies work.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Just Like Me, Climbing a Tree by Durga Yael Bernhard

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Just Like Me, Climbing a Tree
by Durga Yael Bernhard


ISBN-13: 978-1-937786-34-2
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Wisdom Press
Released: April 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Publisher's Website:
Just Like Me, Climbing a Tree explores 12 of the most distinctive trees from across the globe. Yael Bernhard’s playful poem winds through the pages and imagines the many discoveries found while climbing a tree, whether in our backyards or on the other side of the planet. Bernhard's paintings show her careful research of each tree and draw us up into the branches to view new creatures, people, and places.

The appendix to the book offers more facts about the trees, such as their range, habits, uses, and interesting cultural beliefs about the tree. This section will help answer questions that curious young minds might have.


My Review:
Just Like Me, Climbing a Tree is a children's book recommended for "ages 5 and up." The poem is a simple but charming "what if" narrative of a child about the different creatures and things you might find when you climb a tree. I loved climbing trees as a child (and still do), and it reminded me of those adventures.

The pictures show the tree with a local child, setting, and creatures. It's fun to spot the creatures "hiding" in the tree. Parent's may have to explain what some creatures--like sloths--are to young children. There is a label for each tree that tells the tree's common name, scientific name, and the location. This helps you to match up the tree to the further information in the back. There is also a world map on the inner cover that shows where each tree is located.

Further information about the trees is given in the back. It's adult level reading, but much of it would be interesting to a child interested in trees. The trees shown in the poem (and covered in the back) are: Weeping Fig (in Cambodia), Montezuma Cypress (Mexico), Mango (Guinea, West Africa), Monterey Pine (California), Baobab (South Africa), Lychee (Hawaii), Weeping Willow (Holland), Kapok (Brazil), Olive (Israel), Gingko (China), White Mulberry (Australia), Southern Live Oak (Southeast United States).

I recommend this is a fun and potentially educational book to parents of children who love climbing trees. The author even has a note at the end about climbing safely.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: View an page from the book on the publisher's website.